I was a babbling, colicky nightmare of a baby the year the San Antonio Spurs racked up their infamous eight-game losing streak. Hindered by injuries to David Robinson and Sean Elliott, the Spurs finished the 1996-97 season with an abysmal 20-62 record. The one bright spot from such a terrible season? The team won the NBA lottery and, in a move that changed their history forever, snapped up power forward Tim Duncan with the number one draft pick.
The team swiftly turned around. Within a year, they made it to the conference semifinals, where Duncan was awarded Rookie of the Year, and, by 1999, they won their first NBA championship. I was probably busy watching Blues Clues from a high chair during those formative years. But since I’ve been old enough to understand basketball, I have literally known nothing but the Spurs dynasty. That’s why this year has been abysmal.
Tim, Manu, and Tony Parker are no longer on the court—all of them have gone on to what I hope is the very real “Legends Ranch” we’re told of in H-E-B commercials. And what was once criticized as a “boring” basketball team has been unable to shake random bouts of drama that followed since Kawhi Leonard’s departure in 2018 and DeMar DeRozan’s arrival the same year. For the first time since 1996, we’ve also lost seven games in a row.
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Yes, I said “we.” I might not be playing (I’m five-foot-five on a good day and can’t avoid injuring myself any time I attempt to be athletic), but I take these losses very personally. For two decades, my life as a Spurs fan has been nothing but guaranteed trips to the playoffs, the joyful sounds of honking each week after a win, and peaceful nights of sleep knowing that the Big Three were out there taking care of business. We’ve been consistent for so long that I hardly recognize the team I’ve been watching for the past month and a half.
A lot of people might try and point fingers at Leonard, once thought of as the future of the team, for forcing a trade. But it’s more than that. I know I wasn’t the only one who thought Lamarcus Aldridge would be the key to a sixth championship when he arrived in 2015. And even though DeRozan didn’t choose San Antonio as his home, his role as the leading scorer for the Toronto Raptors (and eventually for us) meant he was a promising addition.
Beyond their contributions to the team’s offense, they’ve done little to help the defense, though, which has steadily declined each year since Duncan’s departure. So far this year, the team has earned their worst defensive rating in franchise history, and DeRozan was even mocked for “running away” from LeBron in the paint.
It’s been embarrassing to say the least. For years, I had the freedom to tune into games or follow along casually through push notifications stress-free until the playoffs. Now, many of this year’s games have been torturous. I’ve fallen back on completely illogical superstitions, hoping that if I keep doing exactly what I was doing when the Spurs last scored (sitting down, standing up, staying in the kitchen, etc.) that they’ll keep it up. Spoiler alert: it does not work.
This demoralizing streak of losses coming from one of the NBA’s most reliable franchises has also spawned a series of memes, from fans who, like me, who don’t understand how this is happening to us.
The truth has been tough to stomach. I’ve stopped writing this article more than once, partially out of sadness, but also out of an irrational fear that Pop will read it and personally revoke my right to be a fan. And don’t get me wrong, I grew up in a household that rooted for both the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Longhorns, so I know what denial and disappointment year after year can look like. I knew that one day I might see it in the Spurs, too. I was just hoping it would take a bit longer.
Still, things could be worse. We’re in the middle of a huge period of change, and up until recently, we’ve been able to rely on the team’s seasoned vets to get us through any rough patches. Now we’ve got a lot of young blood out on the court, including Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray. They’re not as consistent yet, but neither was Manu Ginobili, whom Coach Pop described as a wild mustang when he first arrived to the team.
And on the back of one of our worst losing streaks came Lonnie Walker IV’s epic 28-point show against the Rockets this week, ultimately delivering a nail-biting 135-133 double overtime win. Derrick White’s return as the team’s starting point guard seems to have added a level of stability the team had needed, and Patty Mills, one of the remaining members of the old guard, has been posting a career-high 11 points per game and making 42.1 percent of his three-pointers. And if that’s not enough to show that we’re still capable of greatness, I don’t know what will. Things might be a little weird right now—but hey, at least we’re not the Knicks.